Joni Mitchell Tells Elton John About Newport Folk Festival Album, Recording in Her Bedroom and Why Chuck Berry Was the “G.O.A.T.”

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

As a guest on Elton John’s Rocket Hour on Apple Music 1, Joni Mitchell talked about music, socio-political and environmental concerns, and revealed the release of a new album of her full performance at the Newport Folk Festival in July 2022.

In the interview, which was conducted from Mitchell’s home in Los Angeles, the iconic folk singer and songwriter also discussed the earlier struggle to get her music the recognition it deserved among male counterparts, why war enrages her, the plight of the environment, and why Chuck Berry was the greatest of all time.

Below is an excerpt from the full interview, airing 9 a.m. PT on Nov. 12 on Elton John’s Rocket Hour on Apple Music 1

Elton John: I’ve seen you through music, and of course your incredible rehabilitation, but music has helped you so much and it’s beautiful to watch you evolve. And people out there, you haven’t heard things from the Newport Folk Festival yet, but I think there’s going to be an album coming out of that one?

Joni Mitchell: Yeah, we’re trying to put that out.

EJ: It’s extraordinary how good it is. And you didn’t have much rehearsal, did you?

JM: Didn’t have any.

EJ: And you stood up and played guitar.

JM: Yeah, I had to figure out what [to do]. And I couldn’t sing the key. I’ve become an alto. I’m not a soprano anymore, so I couldn’t sing the song. And I thought people might feel slighted that if I just played the guitar part but I like the guitar part to that song. So anyway, it was very well received, much to my delight.

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Mitchell on the “King of Rock and Roll”: Chuck Berry

I used to go to the Avenue H swimming pool in Saskatoon [Canada]. They had a jukebox and a patio. I didn’t swim much, not at that pool, but I danced on the patio to “Johnny B. Goode.” It was one of the main, most played records there. He was the best rock and roller, ever. He was a G.O.A.T. [Greatest of All Time]. The king of rock and roll.

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EJ: You made Blue. You made Court and Spark, Ladies of the Canyon, and then it seems to me as a musician, you wanted to investigate a deeper kind of music, a deeper kind of melody, and you began to make wonderful records like Hejira, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Mingus, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. And it was just astonishing music to me, a piano player, and listening to you play the piano and the chords you played and the melodies you made for me was like heaven. No one did that except you. Do you think that work that you did then, which I think was really ground-breaking, ever got the recognition that it deserved?

JM: At the time, no. It took a lot of flack if anything. People thought that it was too intimate. It was almost like Dylan going electric. I think it upset the male singer-songwriters. They’d go, “Oh, no. Do we have to bear our souls like this now?” I think it made people nervous. More nervous than… It took to this generation. They seem to be able to face those emotions more easily than my generation.

Photo: Courtesy of  Elton John’s Rocket Hour on Apple Music 1

EJ: One day I want you to sit in this room like we’re doing now, but with some recording equipment, I want you to make an album in this room like Johnny Cash did with “Hurt,” and he was on his deathbed. You’re not going to be on your deathbed. I think you should make an album in this room because it’s so magical. Every corner of this room is Joni. Everything about it is Joni. It’s got the ambiance of… I’ve been to a lot of places in my life, but this room is one of the most special rooms I’ve ever been to in my whole life. And I really want you to consider making a record, maybe new songs, the way you are going, you are tearing up the world at the moment.

JM: We did some background vocals up in the balcony once. That’s the only time we’ve recorded in this room.

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Mitchell on a Greater Concern for the Planet Over War

All wars kind of outrage me. I’m a war baby. I was born in the middle of World War II, but it just seems to me that, I guess it’s an old hippie thought like ‘make love, not war,’ but you’d think we’d wise up, and take care of the ecology situation instead of starting wars.

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EJ: I remember going to a concert at Disney Hall where Brandi Carlile sang the whole album [Blue] without a teleprompter, and I said she was crazy. God, I wouldn’t have had the courage to do that. How did that feel to you as someone singing that whole album, which is, from start to finish, one of the classic records of all time? I was sitting next to you and the joy from your face was amazing.

JM: Yeah, well she did such a good job. There have been a lot of covers of my songs, but she’s very true to the original, so it was kind of like going to my own concert.

EJ: There’s only one person in the world that could have done that, and that’s Brandi. Because your songs are so hard to sing. Blue is an astonishing album. And it has had its resurgence, which must have made you very, very happy.

JM: Oh, God. Marcy [Gensic] came in and said to me, “Joni, you’re number one.” I said, “What do you mean I’m number one?” And she told [me]. That’s how I learned that Blue, 50 years after its release, had gone to number one. That’s just crazy. It was fun, though.

Photo: Courtesy of  Elton John’s Rocket Hour on Apple Music 1

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